Those of you who are regular readers here on CaptureLandscapes know how essential I consider a tripod to be for landscape photography, especially when working in dim light. What you also might know is that they have certain limitations that make them less reliable in specific conditions.
Tripods come in many varieties; some are light, some are heavy, some are small, some are large; the options seem to be endless. However, there are certain accessories that can improve a tripod (or your experience with it) regardless of its shape and size.
Most tripods are delivered with a standard head, although some high-quality tripods such as the Gitzo Mountaineer Series aren’t. While the standard heads will work well enough for most of us, those who become more serious about their photography might see the need to upgrade to something even more solid or better suited to their preferences.
You’ve got multiple options when choosing tripod heads: ball head, 2-way head, 3-way head and geared head. Even though most professional landscape photographers use a ball head, that doesn’t mean any of the other options won’t work. It comes down to preferences.
Personally, I find a ball head easier to work with but I used a 3-way head for several years before switching. Ball heads and 3-way heads are often each better in specific scenarios. When working with still landscapes, I find a ball head to be more efficient and flexible but if you’ll be panning or moving the camera while taking a picture, a 3-way head might be a better choice.
A good tripod head can help a lot but I find it completely unnecessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a high-quality head for a $100 tripod. Start by purchasing a high-quality tripod and upgrade the head later. After all, it’s the tripod itself that will carry the weight and receive most of the beating and an expensive head won’t help if your tripod isn’t up to par.
The weight is one of the limitations for a tripod. It’s hard to keep the tripod still when photographing in heavy winds (if you’ve ever been to Iceland or Northern Norway, you know what I’m talking about). An easy solution is to use weighted bags (known as sand bags).
By using one, you’re able to add extra weight to the tripod, making it more stable in the wind. This results in less vibration and camera shake, allowing you to take slightly longer exposures while still keeping the image razor sharp.
These bags don’t weigh anything when you purchase them (make sure to buy empty bags) so you don’t need to worry about the extra weight when hiking. Simply collect rocks, sand or water from your surroundings and fill the bag. Once you’ve filled it, hang it beneath the tripod head. Exactly where you can hang it depends on your tripod but normally there’s a handle beneath the center foot or the center plate.
Research how much weight your tripod can carry before you purchase and start filling the bags, though. Be sure to factor in the weight of the camera, also: we don’t want the tripod to break from overloading. This is another reason why it’s important to purchase a high-quality tripod.
Sometimes it might be beneficial to change out the tripod’s rubber feet for proper spikes.
Regular rubber feet will do the job in most cases; in fact, it’s extremely rare that I use the spiked feet. However, the times I need them, I’m very happy that I’ve got them.
Whether you’re photographing in the snow, on ice, at a beach or in a river, using spiked feet will improve the grip a lot. You’ll notice a big difference when the surface is slippery. A better grip means that the tripod will stand firmly without moving around.
Just make sure that you remove the spikes before entering an airport. It might not be particularly popular to travel with them on!
Tripod Shoulder Strap
Tripods can be heavy and carrying one around can be exhausting. Sometimes, you might not bring anything other than a camera and a tripod (no backpack). In such a scenario, having a tripod shoulder strap can be a great relief.
These straps are easy to attach and remove, so you don’t need to leave it on at all times; just use it whenever you’re going on a walk with only the camera and the tripod.
Do you have any favorite accessories for your tripod? Share it with us in the comments. I would love to hear what else is out there!